The 'Godot' We've All Been Waiting For

Samuel Beckett's Classic Gains Something in Yiddish Translation

They’ll Go On: ‘Waiting For Godot,’ which premiered in Paris 60 years ago, is now being performed in Yiddish.
Courtesy of Ronald L. Glassman
They’ll Go On: ‘Waiting For Godot,’ which premiered in Paris 60 years ago, is now being performed in Yiddish.

By Ezra Glinter

Published October 03, 2013, issue of October 11, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Brooks Atkinson, reviewing “Godot” for The New York Times in 1956, paraphrased Churchill describing Russia in saying that the play is “a mystery wrapped in an enigma.” Does rendering it into Yiddish make it less enigmatic? And if so, is that a good thing?

According to Mandelbaum, the troupe originally wanted to present the characters as Holocaust survivors in the immediate aftermath of World War II. It’s an understandable inclination, especially since Beckett, who was a member of the French Resistance, wrote the play in 1948 and ’49, and his work expresses the existential anguish of the time.

Fortunately, however, the Beckett estate nixed the idea. Despite the postwar resonance, the power of the play lies in the maddening interplay between specific references to the world we know and a nowhere quality that puts it in a kind of purgatory beyond time and space. Moving the action to a more concrete historical setting would have vitiated that hanging-in-thin-air torment, even if the historical moment was itself the hanging-in-thin-air torment of a displaced persons camp.

Even without any overt indication, Yiddish brings out this aspect of the play. Indeed, when Vladimir asks, “Where are all these corpses from?” and exclaims: “A charnel house! A charnel house!” or when both Vladimir and Estragon speak of the noise of dead voices, and how the dead “talk about their lives,” it’s impossible to think of anything else. If this makes the play more concrete, it is not by adding anything extra, but by revealing the inference contained in Beckett’s words themselves.

After the performance, a friend asked me, “So, does Yiddish theater have a future?” Trying to make a joke, I said something about having to “wait and see.” But the truth is, if the future of Yiddish theater means more shows like this one, that’s a tremendously good thing. While much Yiddish theater today — or, more frequently, Yiddish theater in English translation — focuses on mining the existing Yiddish canon, New Yiddish Rep has done something much more audacious. With “Waiting for Godot,” it has shown not what the Yiddish language has contributed to theater in the past, but what it is still able to contribute today. And that is well worth waiting for.

Ezra Glinter is the deputy arts editor of the Forward. Follow him on Twitter, @EzraG


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.